2013 Record and Finish: 78-84, third place in AL West (17th overall)
2014 Projected Record: 78-84, third place in AL West
The Case For
The 2013 Angels were built to win in the short term. They didn't, but the good news is that the short term also included 2014. There is no reason to suspect that Mike Trout will be anything short of the best player alive once more, but you have to think that Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton won't again combine to bat .253 with just 38 homers and 143 RBI. At 34 and 32, respectively, they're aging, but they're not yet old. Pujols, with his torn left plantar fascia healed, is particularly primed for a rejuvenation. Los Angeles ranked sixth in the AL in runs with two of its three central offensive players struggling, and the Angels should significantly improve on that with even average years from their trio of offensive centerpieces.
The Case Against
Eleven pitchers started games for last year's Angels. Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson started 57 of them and combined for an ERA of 3.34. The other nine had an ERA of 4.90. The 2013 Angels will begin with new pitchers filling the bottom three spots in the rotation, but there isn't much to suggest that they will be significantly better. Garrett Richards, a swingman for Los Angeles last year, had a 4.10 ERA in 17 starts, and Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago, both acquired in the massive three-team trade that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona, have 40 career big league starts between them. Richards, Skaggs and Santiago possess more upside than last year's opening trio of Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson, but they will have to show quickly that opponents have to worry about matchups more than two days a week for Los Angeles to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
X-Factor: Kole Calhoun
In his first extended big league look, the 26-year-old put up an OPS of .808, better than anyone on the team except for Trout. Now he will be expected to be the everyday rightfielder and leadoff hitter, and he had better produce, as the barren farm system seems to have no good option – outside of, perhaps, C.J. Cron – who is ready to step in.
Number To Know: 273.49
That's how many feet, according to the website baseballheatmaps.com, that Hamilton's average fly balls carried last year, ranking him 209th in the majors, just behind noted Cardinals slugger Daniel Descalso. Hamilton ranked 23rd, at 299.81 feet, in 2012. Hamilton gained more than 25 pounds over the offseason in an attempt to regain the power that those numbers starkly show he lost. If he doesn't, it is fair to wonder if his slugging days are over for good.
Most overrated: David Freese
"He hasn't moved well over there at third, swing's kind of stiff. I expected to see a little more athletic guy. I know he had tremendous success in the World Series with the Cardinals in 2011, but I expected seeing a lot more, especially a guy coming to a new team with Pujols, who he had some familiarity with. Seemed like they were also counting on him to bring some of that World Series cachet with him, but he seems like a guy that's pressing. I just think he had a great postseason. If you look at his numbers throughout his minor league years, he never was a guy who hit a lot of homers."
Most underrated: Howie Kendrick
"I've always felt that this guy is one of the premier hitters in the American League. He's a guy that can win a batting title, even though it's so difficult for a right-handed hitter to do that. I don't think people give him the notoriety he should get. And he and Erick Aybar have been a double play combination for the last eight years, which is very rare. He's also developed into a solid second baseman. He's become more than adequate defensively."
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